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Montecito mudslide costs insurance companies more than $421 million in claims

Policyholders have filed more than $421 million in insurance claims as a result of the Montecito mudslide

Residents, business owners and others have filed more than $421 million in insurance claims as a result of the Montecito mudslide in January, adding to an already massive bill from a series of natural disasters that hit California over the last year.

Policyholders filed 1,415 insurance claims listing nearly $388 million in residential property losses as a result of the Jan. 9 mud and debris flow, which destroyed more than 100 homes and killed at least 21 people, Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones said.

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Two Montecito residents are still listed as missing.

"Behind these numbers lay loss of life, loss of homes, loss of properties and precious moments, loss of businesses," Jones said. "These numbers tell only a part of the tale of the devastation that Montecito and other communities suffered."

Though Montecito's residential neighborhoods bore the brunt of the mudslide damage, insurance claims for businesses, damaged or destroyed vehicles and other items were also substantial, Jones said.

There were 235 claims totaling $27.2 million in losses for commercial properties, and 388 claims listing $6.7 million in lost or damaged vehicles and other items.

All those numbers are likely to climb as claims are adjusted and more people file with their insurers, Jones said.

Though most homeowners in the Santa Barbara County coastal enclave did not have flood or mudslide insurance, Jones reassured them Monday that his office has instructed insurers to honor claims if they had fire coverage.

The mudslide's "proximate cause" was the massive Thomas fire that scorched 273,000 acres in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties in December and created the soil conditions that made the vulnerable to mud slides in January, he said.

The claims outlined on Monday only further underscore the unprecedented destruction California endured late last year when fires ripped across northern wine country in October and the Southland in December, Jones said. Those two firestorms combined with the mudslide generated $12.1 billion in claims, the largest sum in state history from wildfires, he said.

The series of fires that killed dozens of residents in Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino counties destroyed thousands of homes generated nearly $10 billion in claims alone.

More than $1.8 billion in insurance claims have been filed as a result of the Thomas fire. The blaze, which grew to become the largest on state record, burned more than 280,000 acres, killed two people and destroyed hundreds of homes.

For breaking California news, follow @JosephSerna on Twitter.

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